The hardest part of the “Run Across Ethiopia” was not, actually, the running.
Yes, 250 miles in 11 days was not easy, but with running there is a clear goal and a clear way to achieve that goal; one foot in front of the other, again, and again … and again. Yet poverty, its causes, and solutions are much more complicated.
Witnessing the poverty in Ethiopia made the running seem easy.
Children ran with us for sometimes over a mile in their bare feet, with tattered clothing and hands outstretched for our empty water bottles (which they would use as containers to bring water back from a well). Tiny huts, often slanting to one side, could house a family of 15. Sleeping Ethiopians often lined the sidewalks of Addis, the capital. Children with rotting teeth often chewed on sugar cane, maybe their only “meal” for that day.
The most memorable moment in Ethiopia, for me, included our visit to Hase Gola in the Yirgacheffe region, where we are funding a school being built.
It was so clear in this experience, that the Ethiopian people do not want charity; they want partnership. We arrived to the cheers, claps, and banners of well over 2,000 villagers. They lined a pathway almost 200 meters long leading to a circle for a ceremony. They insisted we sit on benches while they stood or sat on the ground.
A gospel choir sang and danced in celebration. A cow was slaughtered that morning, and we were fed lunch. The villagers of this town are living in dire poverty, and yet they insist on treating us this way.
Ethiopians care about education and desire it desperately; they know it is a tool that they can use to help pull themselves out of poverty.
They don’t want charity; they want an equal relationship of respect and understanding. On the Ground, the orchestrating organization of “Run Across Ethiopia” has this relationship with them.
The coffee farmers, through the saving of their fair trade premiums, are funding one third of the school, we funded two thirds. Change is happening, and the Ethiopians have ownership in this change. Being a part of this partnership has changed the course of my life.